Winning six games and earning an elusive bowl bid is a good thing at Indiana, because positives are often hard to find on the gridiron in Bloomington. That happened in 2015, and that’s nice and all, but for Dan Feeney, it’s not enough.
Not nearly enough.
Feeney, the 6-foot-4, 310-pound All-American offensive lineman who could have been a mid-round NFL draft pick last spring, opted to return to IU for his senior season.
There’s much more to accomplish, he said. Last year was good, and a nice step up for the program, but it could have been so much better for a team that lost late leads to Ohio State, Rutgers and Michigan.
“There were a lot of games where we were very close but we just didn’t finish it out,” Feeney said last week during Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “The Big Ten is all about playing one-possession games. Every possession counts, and we know that. I leave those losses behind, because every game is close in the Big Ten, but we also know that we have to do a better job of finishing games this year.”
“We want to win more than six games, win more than seven games. That’s just a start.”
Indiana had the Big Ten’s top-ranked offense a year ago, but starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard are gone. Still, IU should be able to move the ball well, thanks to plenty of depth and receiver and running back, and quarterback questions that should be readily answered.
Indiana has the league’s most experienced offensive line for sure, with four fifth-year seniors in the starting lineup. But they also might be the best group in the league, led by Feeney, though some people at Michigan and Iowa might want to argue with that claim.
Everyone — including Feeney — is glad he’s back in Bloomington for another year.
“The coaches were excited, but I was too. I love it in Bloomington,” Feeney said. “I still have a lot of things to work on and this year can make me a more complete player.”
After his All-American season in 2015, Feeney looked long and hard at turning pro. But when reports came back that the Orland Park, Ill., native was a more likely mid-round pick, he decided to come back to IU. He thinks he can do better.
Lance Zeirlein, a scout for NFL.com, loves what Feeney does and ranks him as one of his Top 15 seniors. Here’s his report: “With long arms and a burly chest, Feeney operates with a decisive, winning punch as a run blocker and in pass protection. His ability to jolt and cave defensive linemen with his down-blocks before climbing up to engage linebackers helped to create plenty of running room for the Hoosiers. Feeney is scheme-flexible and extremely nasty. He has the functional athleticism to handle gap-shooters and twists. I’d like to see him improve in the area of sustaining blocks.”
Most others agree. One scout for an AFC team said he was surprised to hear Feeney was considered a third- to fifth-round pick last year.
“We had him a touch higher than that, but that’s the nature of the draft, I guess.” said the scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You might target a guy in say the second or third round, but then a bigger need comes up when your pick rolls around and guys start to fall.
“I’ll tell you this. I really like him as a player. He’s certainly got a good chance to raise his stock this year with another strong season. He’s got a lot of talent and he checks off a lot of boxes when you’re scouting him.”
Feeney gets great coaching at Indiana from well-respected line coach Greg Frey, and Wilson pays a lot of attention to that group as well. It drives Indiana’s offensive success, that’s for sure. His group gets pushed hard.
“Coach Frey never wants to have to coach effort, and that’s one thing I never want to be coached on either,” Feeney said. “I want to give 100 percent, and 100 percent of the time. Having some success last year gives us a lot of motivation because a lot of guys got a taste of what it’s like to have a postseason. And now that we went to New York and played in a bowl game, that’s the standard now. Now we want more. We want to go to bigger bowl games and play for championships.”
Feeney likes being surrounded by experienced guys. They all came in together and want to go out with a winning season.
”I think it’s going to be really cool finishing here. We’re the old dogs on campus now,” Feeney said. “We try to set the standard for what we want to do as an offensive line. We’re the strength of the team and we need to be leaders.”
Feeney will likely line up at right guard again, but he’s been taking snaps last week at tackle as well. He’s versatile enough to play all five positions, Frey said last week.
“There’s a lot that goes on from Sunday to Saturday,” Frey said last week. “Dan was a very good left tackle in high school, a very good player. He has some qualities that tackles have. Long arms, good feet. I don’t foresee it, but whatever allows our offense to do the best it can, he’s going to be willing to do and we’re going to be willing to do. We’ll see as camp goes.”